Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Ace_diamond, Nov 14, 2016.
This thread is for writers to give suggestions and advice on how to write a good ending to a story.
There really is no way to conclude a story. You can end it with a broad statement leaving the reader to wonder and want more, or you can give a solid statement that just about wraps up everybody's thoughts about the story. A good story will usually leave the reader wanting more while still wrapping up the main plot. Usually you need to find a balance between answers and questions you want to leave the reader with, and more so with a story that's focused on trying to prove a moral.
Writers might also consider their ending in the context of their (hopefully) dynamic plot as a whole. Have paradigms shifted? Have characters grown? Have alliances been forged or fallen apart? Things of that nature.
Write a series, then you won't have the problem of a proper ending.
Though Ebenezer Lux said it best. Though I will add that it should be a proper ending,
as some think it is cheeky to end things on a cliffhanger knowing full well that they
are never going to have the next installment to follow up with. Provided cliffhangers
work for some, they are not the way to go for most stories that intend on ending.
Also it should be memorable in a good way (IE. avoid using a cliffhanger or not
summing things up in an adequate fashion), or give the reader a 180 degree twist
(such as the guy doesn't get the girl at the end, the MC is actually the bad guy, or
something like that). So decide what route you want to go in, whether you are
doing it on the spot or have it pre-fabbed in an outline.
...and they lived happily ever after , the end
But what if everybody dies? Is it still in the least a happy ending if they lived a good life?
I like these suggestions. I am particularly pleased with 'full circle' endings. Or endings that echo the beginning in some way. This is why I think it's a mistake to labour over the beginning of your story before you've written the whole story. Once you get to the end, you can re-write the beginning so it ties in to the ending in some way. An echo of the beginning is really the most satisfying way to end a story.
When I was in high school I used to write the ending first, because one can only lead the way when he knows where he's going. It worked for me and I definitely had a complete sense of the things I wrote; of course these were all short stories and mostly about asinine situations that didn't feature a whole lot of character. Now, I tend to plan ahead and do an overview of the story with points for each character and their general story arc, and then I look at ways to have them come together and fall away from one another again. The conclusion of a story is to end the points you began the first (or second) chapter of that character with. Maybe two people get together and 'give it a go one last time!' and they live happily ever after. Maybe you had some guy who beats his wife every day, and in the end she either escaped and finds love with a true gentleman (swoon), or the guy learns his lesson through some medium and rejects his former self and behaviour.
Basically, if you read the novel without the conclusion, what are all the questions that a reader would have? Does MC succeed? Does he get the girl? Does she get the job? Did she get off the plane?!? Not all questions need answering, but it warms the heart to have closure on as much as possible, whilst not wrapping everything up in a fancy box with a pretty bow.
Gonna' drop my two cents in on this.
The conclusion of a story is the wrapping-up of the Climax. The climax of the story is a decision by the protagonist that either earns, or fails to earn her , her story goal. She does this by making a choice between the morally correct choice and the easiest, most physically rewarding choice.
i.e. Luke Skywalker chooses not to murder the crap out of Darth Vader, choosing to deny the Dark Side and toss away his lightsaber even though Palpatine is standing there ready to fry him with force lightning. In doing so, he chooses the morally correct choice, the choice viewers hope he makes, and proves that he deserves to get his story reward (whatever that is).
The best conclusion is one that releases, in the reader, the tension built up to the climax. It gives them a sense of fulfillment, a sense that 'all's right with the world', and a sense that the actions of the characters had a direct effect on the conclusion of the story. As a writer, you make a promise with your reader that if they follow you on this journey, they will be rewarded for all the crap you put them through by a fulfilling ending. And before you nail that line to the cross, understand that 'fulfillment' means only that the reader feels the ending is merited. If everyone dies and the world explodes in your book and that's the conclusion, the reader needs to feel that conclusion is justified. If the Prince marries the dragon instead of the princess, that conclusion needs to be a direct result of the protagonists actions in the story.
Basically, people want to believe that cause leads to effect People want to believe that they can control their own destiny, that their actions are responsible for whatever outcome. A conclusion is just the logical aftermath of what happens in your story. Whatever it is, however you write it, if its consistent, it's a good conclusion.
So what suggestions and advice do you have?
Welcome to the forum.
My favorite endings are the ones where i feel closure, and i think closure is only possible if the character's "transformation" is obvious. We get a general impression of where the character is going throughout the book: will he accept help from others to defeat his adversaries, will she finally open her heart to the man she loves, etc. It may not even be the main plot, but we get hints and snips throughout the story that subtly push the reader to lean toward wanting this particular outcome for one or many characters. When that hope is either realized or dashed, there's a feeling of coming full-circle, even when the ending isn't what we wanted.
If you've read the Lorien Legacies series, that's why i don't think i was fully satisfied with the ending of the final book.
Spoiler: Lorien Legacies United as One Ending
You have this big, exciting book series that is predicated on the importance of the last of the Loric race coming together to defeat the bad guy, Setrakus Ra. The group's protection charm literally was about preventing them from being near one another until they were ready to go to battle as a team. Hell, the title of the final book practically screams at you that the most important thing is that the group faces off against him united.
Then our main MC John (the books flip viewpoints often) enters his dark, brooding spiral at the loss of the love of his life, and uses his super-special uber superpower to become a badass weapon. I won't deny that it was fun to read. I chewed through the pages excited to see the culminating battle with him at the helm.
So then we reach the final battle and... John is separated from the rest of the group and pretty much fights the bad guy alone and takes him out. #9, one of our other MCs, comes in just late enough to miss out on the action, but soon enough to finish Setrakus Ra off while he's as weak as a newborn foal. I wasn't unhappy with the ending per se, but it wasn't what i had built up in my head, and that made the conclusion feel empty.
It's a tough balancing act to provide an ending that's expected and embraced while avoiding being contrived, though. I keep trying to remind myself that basically everything I've written so far will likely have to change, because there's just no way to put together an ending that fully satisfies on the first (or more likely tenth) go.
And it was all a dream...
I point out the use of terrible and frustrating conclusions becoming a trademark of Gainax:
I think they managed to turn 'bad endings' into something they were known for and it came to be expected of their fans, so it turned around to becoming a 'good ending' for them, in that it gained more viewers, inspired discussion, and created fan loyalty.
If you pick a way to end it that stays true to your style in each thing you write, then you please your readers rather than achieving a preconceived notion of what should be done.
Yup. I'd accept that as an axiom. I'd even go so far as to swap out 'good conclusion' for 'fulfilling conclusion.'
Au contraire mon ami. If you don't know the ending, you don't know the story. If you don't know how the story ends, and you're already typing away, you began too soon, and I guaran-dam-tee you it will not end well. "The story is great. I just don't like the ending." -1,001 publishers-
The point of a story is what it all leads to, no? How it ends is why you told it in the first place. That's the problem with thinking of great characters, then trying to create a story around them so they can strut their stuff on this stage you built. Eventually...it has to end. A story has an ending. Parading a character in fictionland doesn't.
I have to completely disagree with this. It may be a personal thing for you, or for me, but I don't really care how a book ends. If it pisses me off because it made no sense and all the author was building was to a conclusion, then of course I'd be annoyed. Yet, for all the books where that happens, it's a bad writer that causes it, not the inability to know your ending before you start to type.
I've written plenty of outlines where I have the whole shindig mapped out from start to finish, with sequels and spin-offs, and you know what? It was boring. Literature is about the journey. I don't suddenly gain a better understanding of myself because "he got the girl" or "killed the dragon", and I certainly don't care if everything is wrapped up nice and neatly in a bow. What I do enjoy is the trepidation and fear and struggle that occurs when you place characters in different scenarios. I can't think of anything more tiresome than every chapter leading to a fated end. Maybe it's because I hate the idea of fate. Maybe it's because the journey is all that matters for me (I loved LOST... just sayin'). More likely it's because an ending is just where you stop reading. The journey is what keeps your mind awake at night.
I tend to want a good ending , but i completely disagree that its necessary to plan it in detail before you start - not least because many of the best ideas occur during writing
To re-address something brought up before in a thematic point of view.
LOL...well, to me...and not just me...the story is how we got to the ending. The ending precipitates the story. The story is, after all, "How did we get here?" I find it hard to believe people will think they're writing a story when they have no clue where it's all supposed to lead. Every element in well-written books leads to the conclusion. If it moves the story toward it, it's kept. If it doesn't, it's edited out. A complete work of art leads to its point, or intent - its conclusion.
Disagree all you like (while you try to think of an ending to your "story"). A story is how we got to the conclusion.
If you don't have a destination, how could you have the journey? Don't tell me. It's "character driven" right? Well...since the character is driving. Ask the character what the ending is.
A story is a string of events leading to a conclusion - so its a good idea to have a rough idea what that ending is , but there's no absolute need to have a detailed plan if you don't want one. For example if you were writing Pride and Predjudice you'd have decided that at the end Mr Darcy and Miss Bennet end up together , but you don't need to have decided exactly how , or why or come up with the words "reader I married him" before you start
Also the editing out / adding in comes after the first draft is completed , so you can write the story , discover your ending (or start writing with one ending in mind before discovering something much better) , then edit with the ending you've written in mind.
End of the day this is the whole pantsing vs planning argument which has been done to death and is tired, trite, and boring - both approaches are valid with each being used by large numbers of best selling authors (not to mention those that use a combination). People who try to argue that only one approach is valid (which ever it is) generally wind up demonstrating their own lack of understanding of the writing process
Make it stylish
People are suckers for aesthetics
So it should be witty, or reflective, in order to get people feeling like they conquered the story and are ready to move forwards
The substance comes from the story itself
It can only be unravelled by the ending
So if interesting threads aren't built up the entire story, you can't really have a substantive ending
And if you don't have substance at least give people some kind of payoff worth the time invested, by reflecting on your story and figuring out a pleasing ending
The thing is, the writer doesn't have to know the end when they start. All they need to know is what the initial problem is—and even that can change, although alterations to accomodate this change made while editing will be a good idea. A writer can write their way through to whatever ending evolves. They can discover Truth WHILE writing, not just beforehand.
Many successful and well-respected writers didn't know the ending of their story when they began it. One that springs to mind just now is Tolkien. He didn't know what was going to happen to the ring, or how Sauron would be defeated when he started LoTR. In fact, he wrote quite a bit of it during WW2, when he was horrified at the prospect of Hitler winning the war. This fear impacted on LoTR in many ways. He worked out the plot as he went along.
What IS necessary is for the ending (whatever it ends up being) to make sense, and to feel as if it's 'right.' Your reader shouldn't turn the final page expecting more and not finding it. Your reader should put the book down with a sigh, and a feeling of completion.
At what point the writer arrives at The End is up to them. All writers have their own methods. Some write from start to finish. Some write the finish first, and then go back and develop how that finish evolved. Others start with a few incidents, tie them together, figure out where they are leading and what started them moving to begin with. These are all valid working methods. What all writers need to come up with, though, is a story that grips at the beginning, keeps the reader involved, and ends with something that makes the reader feel the journey was worth while.
In this writing game it's the results that count. Not how a story got created.
Naturally I'll take issue with this idea. Tolkien may not have known the exact method he'd use to destroy the ring, but he did know the ring was going to be destroyed, the object being to free Middle Earth from Sauron and the possibility of it falling under the sway of evil. Like I said, the story is how you get to "what happened". You have "what happened" happen and that's the end. Here's the story of how Sauron fell. It was in the telling of how they got there that LotR unfolded as the epic it became. He was able to write such a cogent masterpiece because he had a clear idea of where this was all leading.
Sure, you can attempt to let the story work itself out, however...finished story, or great story?
I was going to link to some of the endless threads we've had about plotters vs pantsers, but even the search results were practically endless... https://www.writingforums.org/search/4787105/?q=pantser&o=date
Executive Summary after having read through a lot of them: There are great writers who are meticulous planners. There are great writers who write by the seat of their pants. Most writers fall somewhere between the two extremes. Some writers feel extremely attached to their way of doing things and don't accept that anyone else can do things a different way.
Do we need another thread to reach the same conclusions?
Sure. Why not?
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